An Ohio school district under fire for telling a teacher to hide his personal Bible when students are present has released a long list of accusations against the teacher, ranging from preaching in class to “branding” students, and says it is hiring an investigator.
The case arose last week when officials with the Mount Vernon, Ohio, school district ordered teacher John Freshwater to remove a Ten Commandments representation from a collage on his classroom wall and told him he must hide his personal Bible from students.
Coach Dave Daubenmire of Pass The Salt Ministries and Minutemen United, who is acting as a spokesman for the teacher, told WND Freshwater removed the Ten Commandments as ordered but declined to hide his Bible.
The issue last week sparked a student-organized campaign using cell phones, text messaging and e-mails for a “take-your-Bible-to-school day,” Daubenmire said. Students also wore Christian-themed T-shirts for a rally on behalf of the teacher.
School Board president Ian Watson earlier told WND the Bible was just part of a “tapestry” of issues the district was dealing with, but at that time he said he could not provide details on other factors.
Now the school district has released a laundry list of accusations to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.
Administrators told the newspaper Freshwater is accused of holding a religious “healing session” during school and burning crosses onto students’ arms.
School officials told the newspaper they would hire an independent investigator to look into their claims, and an administrator will monitor Freshwater’s classes until that concludes.
The “healing” happened when Freshwater was a chaperone for a Christian student-athlete group and a guest speaker was ill, the newspaper said. The report said Freshwater called for his healing.
“He said out loud, ‘Satan be removed from this man,’” said Jessica Philemond, a lawyer representing a student.
The newspaper reported the same boy also was “branded” during a science class when Freshwater asked for volunteers to see how an electrical device worked.
Daubenmire said the release of such allegations was a calculated effort on the part of the board.
“What you’re seeing is a classic example of character assassination … to release nothing more than allegations and say now they’re going to investigate,” Daubenmire said.
A statement on the Minutemen United website accused the district of skirting the First Amendment issue.
“For those of you who have ever done battle with government schools you know that you should always wear your head gears, pads – and a cup,” the statement said. “Public schools are not familiar with losing and have a reputation of doing whatever it takes to continue their dominance over your child’s life.”
The organization continued, “Instead of addressing the supposed church state separation issue with regard to a public school teacher’s right to bring his Bible to school, the Mt. Vernon School Board – in a time honored tradition – have chosen instead to attack the teacher’s character.”
Daubenmire, a former London High football coach whose district was sued in 1999 after he led his players in prayer, said the “burning” allegation is an old claim that school officials earlier decided not to pursue.
On the Minutemen website, an editorial noted that when Daubenmire was sued in 1999, he endured an “eerily similar scenario to the one that John Freshwater is currently experiencing in his Ohio school district.”
“According to Coach Daubenmire the first thing the school did was to pile on when the ACLU came to town. The school quickly surfaced allegations that he ‘had sold performance enhancing drugs and encouraged students to do so as a fundraiser, engaged in aggressive religious activities on school time without the permission or support of parents and that he operated outside of administrative expectations and policies.’”
On the newspaper’s forums page, Celia Dawkins wasn’t waiting for any investigation.
“I do not send my children to school to be subjected to proselytizing or bad science or incorrect history. This man does not belong in any classroom and should have his teaching license taken away. He is a religious predator,” she wrote.
But a followup from “anonymous” defended Freshwater.
“No, Mr. Freshwater does not deliberately ‘brand’ students. That is the most trumped up charge yet. Absolutely ridiculous. It is a ‘zapping’ type machine that shows the current of electricity. My son said you can put your hand in the ‘lighting bolt’ IF YOU WANT TO. Other teachers in the school system use this as well and have used it for years. The administration was right to not make a big deal of this in December. The kid’s parents are going overboard. I’m sorry one student got ‘burned’, but Mr. F. does NOT burn crosses as a religious exercise. That makes him sound like an idiot.
“Furthermore, the Bibles in his room are because he is the FCA leader. Kids can come in and get a Bible to give to a friend IF THEY WANT TO. Does the art club leader have to take down all artwork in her room? And does the chess club leader have to remove all chess boards?” the comment said.
“Christianity has been persecuted in many parts of the world for many years, and we are now feeling this persecution in our country,” added E. McMillion. “We are living in the ‘end times,’ if you read the Bible you should know about this. Many prophecies have come true, and others are happening today. We Christians will be persecuted and many will be martyrs before the end when Christ will come back.”
Said Valerie, “I am completely shocked that the Bible, God, and Jesus are being all but abolished from our society. Everyday ‘acceptance’ is shoved down our throats, yet it is unacceptable to have the Bible as a teacher’s personal reading material?? Tell me how that’s not discrimination! What’s next? A published list of what teachers are allowed to read? Going to jail for reading the Bible in public?”
R. Kelly Hamilton, one of Freshwater’s attorneys, told the newspaper his client considers the Bible an item that brings him inspiration. He compared it to a personal photo that someone puts on a desk at work.
Daubenmire has told WND the Bible is an important part of Freshwater’s life, to the point he carries it with him when he parachutes into forest fire zones during his summer work as a smokejumper.
He also has worked to smuggle Bibles into China, Daubenmire said.
Watson told WND the school has no formal prohibitions on personal items on teachers’ desks, and when asked how the school arrived at a ban on Freshwater’s personal Bible being on his own desk, Watson said, “I do not know how to answer.”
In a commentary for WND, Daubenmire framed the issue as a rampant attack singling out Christianity.
“Please notice that the attack on religious freedom in America is on Christianity. No one is trying to silence the religious freedom of Muslims or atheists or humanists. Quite the contrary. We are told to ‘understand’ Muslims, to be sensitive to the atheists and to tolerate the humanists and their various denominations of ‘isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, secularism, socialism, communism), which we teach openly in our schools.
“Our rights are God-given rights. They are not ‘constitutional’ rights,” he continued. “Take some time and read the U.S. Constitution. You will see that it does not grant any rights to anyone. Instead, while setting up the federal government, the document (the first ten amendments) also prohibits the government from interfering with various aspects of human freedom. The first ten amendments limit what the government can do. They shouldn’t be called the Bill of Rights; they should be called the Bill of Limitations.”
Instead of claiming constitutional rights, citizens of the U.S. should proclaim their God-given rights, he said.